Changing Self Talk
In the list of personal traits I prayed my boys would inherit from me, my shyness and poor self talk were not among them. Unfortunately, my oldest son took those as his own. Hearing it shatters my heart.
Last night was a bad homework night. My little 1st grader had been doing so well with his reading. He'd turned that corner and was reading longer and longer to us every night. Gone, it seemed, were the days where when he reached a word he didn't automatically know he would get frustrated, refuse to sound it out, and declare he would never read again. With a relieved sigh, and a proud smile, we listened with joy to him showing off his improved reading skills.
Then came last night.
He had to read a short story with unfamiliar words, but he quickly got frustrated having to always sound them out, and embarassed. He is of the opinion that reading should come as easily as everything else in school, so when he doesn't automatically know it he gets very embarassed, then mad. He's a good reader for his age, but to him that's not good enough. By the end of the night he was yelling, crying so hard he was choking, and declaring he was too stupid to ever learn to read.
Can you hear the tinkling of the shards of my heart shattering and hitting the floor?
My baby, my very bright baby, truly believed he was stupid. He's not, of course. He's actually quite smart. But it doesn't matter if HE believes he's stupid. He has a strong shy streak he inherited from me. As a kid there were so many things I longed to participate in, to try, but I always held back. I was afraid. Afraid I would not be good and everyone would just laugh at me. I cannot remember a time when I had some traumatic incident that led me to this fear, I was just wired this way. As an adult I still struggle, though now I've learned coping mechanisms to help me overcome it most of the time. My 6 year old son does not yet have a lifetime of experience to draw from. As soon as he has to work at a skill, he gets embarassed and shuts down. If I can keep him calm he reasons his way through the problem with ease. Once he's frustrated, though, mentally he's shut down.
We sent him up to bath time in an attempt to hit the reset button on the night. He was angry. Very angry. At first, no matter what words I said he'd cover his ears. His sweet, hazel eyes were red and raw from the crying. He was convinced he was stupid, and he was telling himself over and over he was. The entire bath he just sat there and made me wash his hair and his body for him. His arms were crossed, his muscles tight with tension. As I drained the water, I asked him if he remembered asking me for a fish. He snapped back a very tart "YES". I ignored his tone, and continued calmly, almost quietly.
"Do you remember how I told you it could be earned?" I asked.
"I had to learn to ride a two wheeler up the whole street," he answered, still harshly, but slightly less so. He wasn't sure where I was going with this.
"What did you say to me then?"
"That I couldn't do it. I could never do it." He answered. And he had believed it. He was afraid to ride without the training wheels. He was soooo ready, I could see he was. But he lacked confidence in himself to get it right. He begged and pleaded, negotiated and yelled to try to get me to give him another way to earn that fish he wanted so badly. I stood firm. Stubbornly, he'd quit trying to get a fish, and I didn't push it. Then, one random summer day in July, he asked me to get out his two wheeler. I will never forget his face when we reached the end of the street, him pedalling and me running along beside him encouraging him, and I looked him in the eye and told him he'd done it. On his own. He'd done what he told himself he couldn't do. No one had made it easy. No one could do it for him, he had to do it. And he did. He rode that street 100 times that night, til it was so dark we had no choice but to drag him inside. He has never looked more proud of himself as he did that night.